Re-posted from October 2011
Tis the season once again for Halloween. I’ve decided to dedicate the next few blogs to this rather unusual celebration that sparks a lot of passion between folks who sit on opposite sides of the fence. Halloween or All Hallows Eve is a joyous time for many Americans to remember and honor their dead, while others refuse to partake in what they perceive to be demonic activities on a demonic holiday while others simply like to dress up in kooky costumes and get free candy.
What’s it all about? Is it harmless fun? A revered celebration? Or something harmful, ungodly and dangerous?
You be the judge! Lette’s Chat about it…
A little history first…
I’m not exactly sure when this celebration, turned into a major a holiday, but you can barely get into the front door of some places because of all the “spooky” Halloween paraphernalia. Ghosts, witches, goblins decorate lawns, windows, storefronts, schools, community centers etc…
According to Nielson, Americans bought 600 million (yes, millions!) pounds of candy in the year 2009. Halloween is the biggest season for chocolate candy, with nearly 90 million pounds of chocolate candy sold during Halloween week. By comparison, nearly 65 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during the week leading up to Easter and only 48 million pounds of chocolate candy is sold during Valentine’s week.
In total folks, that translates to approximately $1.9 billion (or 598 million pounds) of candy that is sold during the Halloween season. (source)
Wow, think about that for a second.
Halloween is considered by some people in the United States, usually non-Christians, as a fun holiday, mostly for children. But actually, Halloween has roots in ancient religions and folklore (paganism, or “non-Christians”), including ancient Roman religions, early Catholic Christianity and Irish folklore. Others in the United States and largely in other countries, observe Halloween as a remembrance of departed loved ones and/or Catholic saints.
Around 2,000 years ago, the Celts, (pronounced Kelts) who lived in what is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northern France, held a New Year festival on November 1. The end of the year signaled the end of summer, the end of the harvest season, and the beginning of a long, hard winter that often caused many deaths of animals and people. Weaker livestock were often killed and eaten during this holiday, since most likely, they would not survive the winter anyway. Pagan traditions included bonfires, parades, and dressing up in costume.
So, this time of year signified death to the pagan (non-Christian) Celtics (pronounced Kel-tiks). They believed the night before the New Year, the wall (or veil) between the living and the dead is at its thinnest of any other time of the year, which allows spirits of the dead, both good and bad, to mingle among the living. Some of these spirits were thought to possess living people, cause trouble, ruin crops, or to search for passage to the afterlife. Other spirits came back just to spend more time with their families and loved ones.
In the First century A.D., the Roman Empire had taken over most of the Celtic lands. Ironically, the Romans also celebrated two festivals during same time of year as Samhain. One was called Feralia, which was also celebrated in late October, and was the day in which the Romans honored their dead. The second festival was in honor of Pomona, the Roman goddess of trees and fruit. Her symbol is the apple. The two festivals were combined with Samhain in the Celtic lands during the four hundred years the Roman Empire ruled over the Celtic regions. (some believe the tradition of bobbing for apples stems from rituals which honored the goddess Pomona)
Over the next several hundred years, Christianity had spread to include the lands inhabited by the Celtics and the Romans. The Christian church reportedly did not like a festival with pagan roots being practiced by Christians. Therefore, Pope Boniface IV designated May 13 as All Saints Day to honor dead saints and martyrs. But Samhain continued to be celebrated despite his efforts. So, in 835 A.D., Pope Gregory IV switched the date again. This time, to November 1. Since All Saints Day was still related to the dead but had gotten a green light from the Pope, both Christians (the church) and pagans were happy.
All Saints Day was also known as All Hallows, or All Hallowmas (Hallowmas is Old English for All Saints Day). Since Samhain was celebrated the night before November 1, the celebration was known as All Hallows Eve, and later called Halloween.
In the year 1000 A.D., the church designated November 2 as All Souls Day, to honour the dead who were not saints, and they eventually became combined and celebrated as Hallowmas. (source)
Stay tuned for Part 2!
Part 2 of 3 To Boo or not to Boo? Christians and Pagans clash! (part 2)
Now that I’ve shared the history of Halloween with you and talked about how a pagan holiday, a Roman holiday and a Christian holiday all occurred around the same time of the year, Lette’s Chat about how and why pagans and Christians clash now, centuries later.
On All Souls Day in England, the poor would “go a-souling”. They would go door to door asking for food, and in return, would pray for the souls of their dead relatives. Many folks believed the souls of the dead would await passage into heaven until enough people prayed for their souls. The Christian church encouraged this practice to replace the pagan tradition of leaving cakes and wine out for the spirits of the dead. The poor would be given “soul cakes”, which were pastries made for those who promised to pray for their dead relatives. In some cultures, soul cakes would be given in exchange for a performance or song as well.
The history of Jack o’lanterns has at least two historical roots. One tale is that the early pagan Celtic peoples used hollowed out turnips, gourds, or rutabagas to hold an ember from the sacred bonfire so they could light their home fires, adding a blessing to their households.
Another tale comes from an Irish myth. A man known as “Stingy Jack”, known to be a swindler and a drunk, asked the devil to have drink with him. Jack convinced the devil to change himself into a coin so he could pay for the drink, but Jack put the coin in his pocket next to a silver cross which trapped the devil, preventing him from changing himself back. Jack agreed to free the devil on the condition that the devil would not bother Jack for a year. The next year, Jack tricked the devil into climbing a tree to fetch a piece of fruit. While the devil went up the tree, Jack carved a cross into the trunk, preventing the devil from climbing back down the tree. In order to get out of the tree, the devil promised Jack not to seek his soul any more. When Jack died, he was not allowed into heaven, because of his drunken and swindling ways, but he was not allowed into hell either, because the devil kept his word. Taking pity on Jack, the devil gave him an ember to light his way in the dark, putting it into a hollowed out turnip for Jack to carry on his lonely, everlasting roamings around the Earth. People from Ireland and Scotland would make “Jack o’lanterns” during this season to scare away Stingy Jack and other evil spirits wandering about.
Over the next several centuries, superstitions about witches and black cats were added to to the folklore and legends of Halloween. Cats were thought of as evil, especially black cats, and were killed by the thousands in Medieval times, possibly contributing to the Black Plague, due to the shortage of the rat’s natural enemy, the cat. During this time, the church created the belief that evil witches existed. (pure and utter NONSENSE which has carried over the centuries giving witches and black cats a bad name!!)
In the 1500’s, Martin Luther created the Protestant Church which no longer acknowledged saints. Therefore, no All Hallows Day celebrations were allowed. On November 5, 1606, Guy Fawkes was executed for attempting to blow up England’s Parliament. Fawkes, along with an extremist Catholic organization he belonged to, wanted to remove the Protestant King James from his throne. The English wasted no time to have a celebration to replace All Hallows Day, so he declared Guy Fawkes Day which has been celebrated ever since.
Even though the celebration had a new name, many traditions of All Hallows Day were still practiced including bonfires and children asking for money. But the reasons why the traditions were carried out were different. Bonfires were known as “bone fires” originally because they were lit in order to burn an effigy of the Catholic pope, burning his “bones”. Two hundred years later, the effigy of the pope was replaced by an effigy of Guy Fawkes, prompting children to go door to door, asking for a “penny for Guy”, so they could make their effigy to burn. In the New World, the colonists celebrated Guy Fawkes Day for a while, but as the colonies became the United States of America, the traditional celebration of Guy Fawkes Day was lost and forgotten.
Halloween was not a popular observance in early United States history because, naturally, most of the early settlers were Protestant. But by the mid 1800’s, immigration increased, and many Irish immigrants, mostly Catholics fleeing the potato famine, brought many Halloween traditions with them. Jack o’lanterns found a new face, the pumpkin, which was very plentiful in the New World. Catholics and Episcopalians sought to preserve their traditions, so started an effort in the late 1800’s to popularize and make their holidays known to the general population.
So what went wrong?
Lette’s Chat about that in the next installment!
Trick or Treat? Or Merry Meet?
Welcome to the third installment of my Halloween/Samhaim/All Souls blogs. Hopefully you’ve picked up a few pieces of new information. I have – there were a couple of things I didn’t know either. Your feedback has been great, thank you for that.
To close, I’d like to go back to the beginning and revisit the importance of Samhain to the pagan community. While Halloween is viewed as merely a time to dress up, have a party and/or go trick or treating, the celebration of Samhain is very sacred to many pagans. So with that notion, I’ve decided to post a typical Samhain ritual practiced (in some form or another) by pagans around the world. I borrowed this ritual from Patti Wigington’s blog on about.com. Patti is a wealth of information. If you are interested in learning more about this or any other aspects of paganism, her blog would be the absolute best place to start!
For an additional treat, please stop by my buddy’s shop for all sorts of tricks AND treats at
Happy Halloween and Happy Samhain!
Samhain is a time like no other, in that we can watch as the earth literally dies for the season. Leaves fall from the trees, the crops have gone brown, and the land once more becomes a desolate place. However, at Samhain, when we take the time to remember the dead, we can take time to contemplate this endless cycle of life, death, and eventual rebirth.
Time Required: Varied
- For this ritual, you’ll want to decorate your altar with symbols of life and death. You’ll want to have on hand a white candle and a black one, as well as black, red, and white ribbon in equal lengths (one set for each participant). Finally, you’ll need a few sprigs of rosemary.Perform this rite outside if at all possible. If you normally cast a circle, do so now.
- Say:Samhain is here, and it is a time of transitions.
The winter approaches, and the summer dies.
This is the time of the Dark Mother,
a time of death and of dying.
This is the night of our ancestors
and of the Ancient Ones.Place the rosemary on the altar. If you are doing this as a group ceremony, pass it around the circle before placing on the altar. Say:Rosemary is for remembrance,
and tonight we remember those who have
lived and died before us,
those who have crossed through the veil,
those who are no longer with us.
We will remember.
- Turn to the north, and say:The north is a place of cold,
and the earth is silent and dark.
Spirits of the earth, we welcome you,
knowing you will envelope us in death.Turn to face the east, and say:The east is a land of new beginnings,
the place where breath begins.
Spirits of air, we call upon you,
knowing you will be with us as we depart life.
- Face south, saying:The south is a land of sunlight and fire,
and your flames guide us through the cycles of life.
Spirits of fire, we welcome you,
knowing you will transform us in death.Finally, turn to face the west, and say:The west is a place of underground rivers,
and the sea is a never-ending, rolling tide.
Spirits of water, we welcome you,
knowing you will carry us
through the ebbs and flows of our life.
- Light the black candle, saying:The Wheel of the Year turns once more,
and we cycle into darkness.Next, light the white candle, and say:At the end of that darkness comes light.
And when it arrives, we will celebrate once more.
- Each person takes a set of ribbons — one white, one black, and one red. Say:White for life, black for death,
red for rebirth.
We bind these strands together
remembering those we have lost.Each person should then braid or knot their three ribbons together. As you do so, focus on the memories of those you have lost in your life.
- While everyone is braiding or knotting, say:Please join me in chanting as you work your energy and love into your cords:As the corn will come from grain,
All that dies will rise again.
As the seeds grow from the earth,
We celebrate life, death and rebirth.When everyone has finished braiding and chanting, take a moment to meditate on the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Is there someone you know who reminds you of a person you’ve lost? Have you ever looked into a baby’s eyes and seen your late grandfather looking back?
- Finally, ask everyone to take their knotted ribbons home with them and place them on their personal altar if they have one. That way, they can be reminded of their loved ones each time they pass by.
- Rosemary is used in this rite because although it seems to go dormant over the winter, if you keep it in a pot you’ll get new growth in the spring. If there’s another plant you’d rather use, feel free.
What You Need:
- Ribbon in black, red and white
- A white candle and a black one
Patti’s original blog post can be found here.